Parallel Thinking LO20266

John Gunkler (
Wed, 23 Dec 1998 07:31:23 -0600

Replying to LO20251 --

When seeking an explanation of different behavior (even when there are
apparently no differences in attitude involved), I think back to Herbert
Simon's description of an ant traversing a landscape (in his brilliant
monograph: The Sciences of the Artificial.)

He pointed out that many people, observing the twisting, non-direct, up
and over and under, backtracking path that the ant takes will want to try
to explain it by analyzing the ant's motives, attitudes, history, etc.
(and are even more likely to "look inside" when it's a person rather than
an ant.) However, the explanation of the path is actually much simpler --
given two "internal" facts about the ant [namely, that s/he wants to get
back home and that s/he has some physical capabilities and limitations],
the path is completely explained by looking at the terrain over which the
ant must pass.

That is, it is the external environment with which we interact that
explains much of the differences in our behavior. Put the same person (or
two people with similar demographics and opinions) in two very different
situations and they will act differently.

This is part of what Deming meant, I believe, when he warned managers that
most of the "blame" for employees' poor performance belongs with
management (and the systems and environments they were responsible for
creating), not with the employees.


"John Gunkler" <>

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